Like any cinematic trend, remaking animated Disney classics into live action films will pass. However we’re currently in full flow of the new film fad, and Jon Favreau’s Jungle Book makes an excellent case for continuing down this road.
We follow man cub Mowgli (Neel Sethi) who is brought up by a pack of wolves in a jungle after his father’s tragic death. Wolf mother Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) has raised the boy as her own, with pack leader Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) instilling in young Mowgli the laws of the jungle. Mowgli is watched over by panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), who discovered him as a stranded youngster.
Peace is soon broken when vicious tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) promises to seek his revenge on the child and the animals for disobeying the law and letting a human dwell in the jungle.
Bagheera forces Mowgli to go to the man village, and the pair set off on their journey, but after an attack from Shere Khan, the boy is forced to fend for himself against evil creatures like python Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), who sees the adolescent as a snack.
Baloo the bear (Bill Murray) saves him from the jaws of death in the nick of time and encourages Mowgli to be himself, and clashes with Bagheera over what’s best for the boy’s survival. Meanwhile, giant orangutan King Louie (Christopher Walken) gets his monkey minions to kidnap the boy so he can teach them how to make fire. The fearsome Louie has nothing on evil Shere Kahn, and soon a showdown kicks off between the tiger and Mowgli.
There are many references to the 1967 cartoon, including the beloved songs, but it’s much darker than the original. Gone is the all-singing, all-dancing King Louie, replaced instead with a mobster monkey who declares in a Mafioso voice that he can offer Mowgli protection. Walken is perfectly cast as the menacing orangutan, whose rendition of I Wanna Be Like You serves more as a threat.
Kaa only makes a short appearance, but Johansson is beguiling as the hypnotic snake. Kingsley’s authoritative inflections make him the perfect Bagheera and Nyong’o’s softly spoken Raksha is also well cast. Elba takes time to get used to as the film’s villain and his growling tones work better than the London street twang he has at the start.
The stand out stars are Murray, whose take on Baloo is genius in its delivery. Witty and wonderful, Murray proves once again that he is still the master of understated comedy. And of course newcomer Sethi, who excels as man cub Mowgli. Not only is the 10-year-old great on his own merits, but he had to shoot on a green screen with puppets, which is even more impressive. He is without doubt 2016’s Jacob Tremblay and his performance has paved the way for a bright future in Hollywood.
Favreau’s direction of Rudyard Kipling’s classic tale is awe-inspiring, and the team have created a visual masterpiece. You have to see it to believe how stunning the scenery is, with the lush jungle and its inhabitants being brought to life with such realism, you feel at times like you’re watching a documentary – not a CGI’d film!
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